In the face of impending climate crises, environmentalists are becoming increasingly polarised in their ideas and beliefs. Bio-Conservatives argue for a curbing of consumption, a return to Nature and are suspicious of new technologies. Techno-Progressives on the other hand adopt an optimistic trust in progress, and promise to solve problems with newer and better technologies.
However, a number of emerging factors suggest possible alternatives for the relationship between environmentalism and science. Among these are the DIYBIO or Biopunk movements and the campaign for open access to science, as well as efficient, headless and cell-based networks of activists such as Anonymous.
This project explores relationships between ideology and science and how an alternative to current options might manifest itself. The New Weathermen is a fictional group of activists who embrace Synthetic Biology to push for radical environmental change. Challenging the borders between activism and crime, their actions aim to disrupt the status quo and propagate an ambitious vision for the greater good. Deliberately radical and ambiguous, they provide a starting point for discussion about our existing beliefs and ideologies.
The project consists of a series of test rigs, small scale experiments that reflect much bigger, radical and slightly deluded ambitions.
Exhibition View: Future Fictions, Z33 House for Contemporary Art, Hasselt BE
photo: Kristof Vrancken / Z33
Exhibition View: Blueprints for the Unknown, V_2 Institute for the Unstable Media, Rotterdam NL
photo: Simon Scheiber
Palm oil press and glycerol tester
Massive palm oil plantations in southeast Asia are widely criticised by green activists groups, because they take over rainforests, peatlands and biodiversity. Palm oil is increasingly attractive to the food industry, especially as an alternative to trans fats which are now subject to labelling regulations. To shift the public’s opinion of this ubiquitous foodstuff, the Weathermen take to radical methods. By way of agrobacterium and guerilla spraying operations, they modify the palms to produce lipase inhibitors which keep the body from digesting oil. Anyone consuming this modified oil is unable to process it, causing sickness and all sorts of #BIOLULZ side effects. The oil press device is used to test the transformation by pressing small batches of oil and testing for the absence of glycerol.
This tactic builds on existing treatments for alcoholism, where Coprine — a compound found in the ink-cap mushroom — produces instant and violent hangovers in patients who drink while on the drug.
Diesel Bug test rig
To disrupt the “parasitic” fossil fuels industry, the Weathermen take to optimising microbial infections in fuel known as the Diesel Bug. Using small scale tank replicas, they modify the bug to maximise growth and biofilm production. Another challenge is to achieve enough ‘stickiness’ for contagion to occur. The bug should be passed on to every car which refuels at an infected pump and to every pump used by an infected car.
#PIRATE POLLEN ©lub
Wind Propagation Tunnel
Many golf courses and suburban houses use genetically modified grass in order to grow stronger, greener and prettier lawns. Suburban genetics is a juicy market for biotech companies and the subject of patents and copyrights, which the Weathermen oppose. While traditional green activists — such as the Anarchist Golfing Association — would simply break into greenhouses to kill experimental crops, the Weathermen believe that the answer to Big Biotech is not No Biotech but Open Source Biotech.
Using a wind tunnel to test propagation, two plans are devised. The first one involves Homology Directed Repair to remove the copyrighted gene in the grass, and disable the herbicide resistance it expresses. When the golf course is sprayed, the herbicide kills weeds and grass alike, leaving golfers with only rough soil to play on. The second option is to propagate an open source grass species which outcompetes the copyrighted one in terms of growth rate and sturdiness. The new species disrupts the green’s flatness and makes it much harder to play.